NewsRack (formerly Newsstand) iPhone RSS/Feed Reader Review

Short version: NewsRack/Newsstand for iPhone and iPod touch is the best mobile newsreader I have ever laid hands or eyes on. It is the best money I’ve ever spent on iPhone software.

When NewsGator announced that their difficult-to-use web feed service was going down, I was inspired to move to Google Reader and find an iPhone client that would sync with Google Reader. I followed their instructions and moved my feeds with an OPML file.

But what client to buy? I posted about that on 7 August 2009.

I’ve used NewsRack/Newsstand probably every single day since I got it. The days I don’t use it are those rare days where I don’t touch my iPhone for anything. On average, I load NewsRack/Newsstand an estimated ten times on a weekday and less on each weekend day. When I first bought it, it had some forgivable and completely minor rough edges — but it still spanked the competition. And it didn’t yet sync with Google Reader — it just downloaded from it. Syncing hadn’t arrived yet.

Then a new version of NewsRack/Newsstand (2.0) came out which fixed perhaps every single rough edge and, gloriously, added Google Reader syncing. This new version fixed things I’d reported, things I’d seen but hadn’t reported, improved things I didn’t even consider could be improved and added wonderful new features. Some of the improvements include

  • In-app email sending. No more need to close NewsRack/Newsstand to email a message to someone.
  • Google Reader syncing (not just downloading of posts)
  • Awesome GUI cleanup, including things I didn’t know could be spruced up
  • Google Mobilizer support. Works but I have a problem with the links that makes it unsuitable for use by me. Logged with developer via email, no reply.
  • Something changed about the web browser. Was there no integral web browser before? I just don’t recall.
  • Messages are now starred, not flagged. And the stars behave as I’d expect, whereas flags didn’t.
  • Delicious.com (del.icio.us) support is now folded into NewsRack/Newsstand, not an external Safari process. Awesome!

Now I’ve been using NewsRack/Newsstand version 2.0 (now 2.1) since August, so I don’t recall all the little details that were obvious to me when I had freshly moved from version 1.x to 2.0. So I hope the author forgives my surely incomplete list if he reads this.

The German developer mostly ignores my emails suggesting enhancements. But version 2.0 included so many of my requests, I can hardly complain. I have a few open (reported, largely without any reply) suggestions but they’re not a big deal. I will admit, however, that I when I get something which is as close to perfection as NewsRack/Newsstand 2.1 is, it pains me to see it linger at 99pct. Perhaps I’ll post these improvement suggestions in the future.

I presently follow 133 Google Reader feeds per the NetNewsWire OS X client that syncs with my Google Reader account and which I have used for actually reading feeds exactly twice. I currently have 10,000+ unread posts, according to NewsRack/Newsstand’s badge. I don’t even try to keep up with them all. NewsRack/Newsstand has been rock solid since I bought version 1.0. It opens very quickly and simply never dies. And, boy, it is fast.

The version 2.0 introduced a crash on adding a feed in a certain way. I believe a minor upgrade fixed that. I don’t recall if I had reported it.

There is no question that this is the best five dollars I’ve spent on iPhone software. I spent $80 on OmniFocus (mostly out of dislike of the competing products) and $20 on their iPhone client. And I hardly use either piece of software. But that five bucks I spent on NewsRack/Newsstand keeps on paying me back. Every single day.

If you want a feed reader for the iPhone or iPod touch, you can’t possibly go wrong with NewsRack/Newsstand from omz:software in Germany.

Update 26 January 2010: As a result of this omz:software blog article, I’ve changed instances of “Newsstand” to “NewsRack/Newsstand” in this article.

Visa Gift Cards

Short version: My advice is to stay away from these.

I got one from Verizon as a perk for signing up for a year of FiOS service (internet and cable TV, not phone).

I went to use it (twice in a row) at Sears a couple weekends ago. The first transaction (about $80 bucks) went fine. The second one was declined. My plan was to empty the remaining twenty-something dollars on the Visa gift card and pay the balance (a couple bucks) in cash. No such luck. Unlike a store-brand gift card, it was not possible for Sears to know what the balance available on the card was. That’s okay for a real Visa card as there is an expectation that the user track his finances and know what’s available on the card.

But in my view, it is a reasonable expectation for the user of one of a Visa gift card to want to empty it completely and without having to track its balance to do so.

At the register, I called the number on the card (888-397-0765) and found myself in an automated system. This system advised me to use the Visa card first (absolutely not second) in a multi-payment-source transaction and to tell the clerk the amount available on the card. This was easy for me because I had my receipt from the previous transaction minutes before. I certainly hope that if I’d waded deeper into their menus, I’d have found an option to get the card’s balance— I didn’t need to but it could be a real hassle for others if this isn’t possible.

These cards are not cash. My advice if you get one is to spend it fast. Just get it off your plate. For example, convert it into an iTunes Gift Card (or several) or some other thing that you’ll definitely use. I certainly wouldn’t suggest using it here and there for various transactions — for something with perhaps a $100 balance to begin with, it’s not worth tracking the balance.

The nice clerk at Sears told me to keep the card around in case I ever need a refund as Sears will only refund to that exact card. Yet another reason to avoid these deceptive little monsters.

Never forget: This this is not cash and it’s not a proper Visa check or credit card. What’s worse, it’s not even as convenient as a store-brand card, which is quite an indictment.